School Lunches That Make the Grade
My elementary school didn’t have a cafeteria, but every Tuesday was pizza day. Drooling students lined up in the hallway clutching dollar bills to pay for a piping-hot pepperoni slice and a little carton of milk. I looked forward to it all week.
Luckily, pizza day was only once per week, and my other four lunches were comprised of healthy sliced fruits, veggies, and sandwiches on whole-grain bread (thanks, Mom). But these days, kids are eating in school more often—and that may mean that they’re gorging on fat-packed foods daily. We discussed the problem of unhealthy school lunches in this article from our September 2010 issue. These unhealthy meals have serious long-term effects—check out our recent story on the childhood obesity crisis. The National School Lunch Program dishes out 31 million lunches per day. This school year, the NSLP’s nutrition standards were updated in accordance with the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Lunches have an age-based calorie cap, and schools are required to limit sodium and saturated fat and serve more fruits, veggies, and whole-grain items. But are they measuring up?
Last week, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine released its eighth School Lunch Report Card evaluating meals served by the National School Lunch Program. Standout schools received high grades for offering veggie-packed side dishes, vegetarian and dairy/egg-free entrée options, and nondairy beverages. (The valedictorian: Pinellas County Schools in Florida, which earned a perfect score.) Schools also garnered points for implementing nutrition education in the cafeteria. Failing grades were assigned to schools that dole out cholesterol-heavy dairy products and processed meats such as hotdogs and pepperoni. Low-scoring districts in Houston and Milwaukee were criticized for serving meals such as chicken-fried steak fingers and breaded catfish.
The good news: healthy lunch options are on the rise. The average grade is a B (84%), up 5% from 2008. Healthier lunch options can help decrease students’ lifetime risk of developing obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and colorectal cancers.
Looking for healthy meals you can stash in your kid’s lunchbox? We’ve got tons of creative ideas to please even the pickiest eaters.
Read the full report here, and tell us how your kid’s school compares.
Image: School lunch via Shutterstock.